2 former students sue Delbarton over alleged sexual abuse

(Star-Ledger) MORRISTOWN — Born into the Delbarton School family, Tom Crane and his twin, Bill Crane Jr. spent their floppy-haired, muddy-kneed childhoods on the sprawling pastoral campus of the elite all-boys academy, where their father worked as a teacher and administrator for 42 years.

Everyone knew the Crane boys, the fun-loving kids who had full run of the school and adjoining St. Mary’s Abbey. As their father, Bill Sr., rose to assistant headmaster, the boys explored the historic stone buildings and libraries, surrounding woods and ponds, athletic field and game rooms.

They were ballboys for the football team, go-fers for the monks. They lived on the Morris Township campus for two years while their parents had a house built nearby.

“We were the luckiest kids on Earth,” Tom Crane said. “The campus was our playground. We had full access to everything. But, unfortunately, the monks had full access to us.”

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Morristown, the two men, now in their 40s, say a pair of Delbarton monks — Rev. Luke Travers and Rev. Justin Capato — “sexually assaulted and/or sexually abused” them as children.

The Cranes allege officials at Delbarton and St. Mary’s Abbey, which runs the school, either knew about the abuse or should have known, and they accuse administrators of a cover-up.

A spokesman said abbey and school officials would not respond to the allegations, and that they are still investigating previous abuse claims against Travers, 55. An attorney for Capato, 63. said the Cranes were headline-grabbing, and he predicted the lawsuit would be dismissed.

The complaint alleges that in the 1970s and 1980, Capato abused both brothers and that Travers abused one of them. Details of the sexual abuse are not contained within the 35-page lawsuit, and the Cranes deflected questions about specifics during a press conference Tuesday on the courthouse lawn.

However, documents viewed by The Star-Ledger and interviews with those involved with the case reveal the specific allegations against the monks.

Among those allegations:

Pornography was abundant at Delbarton and St. Mary’s Abbey — often left in the open in monks’ offices and dorm rooms — and Capato shared his extensive collection with Bill Crane, beginning when the boy was approximately 11.

Capato would wrestle and tickle the youngster, at times becoming aroused while rubbing against him.

Capato often asked Bill Crane questions about puberty and would check his genitals for hair, the Cranes allege.

When Capato and Bill Crane were in the school’s pool, horseplay included Capato sticking a hand inside Bill Crane’s swimsuit and fondling his genitals.

A couple of years later, Travers questioned Tom Crane extensively about his teen sex life, often grabbing Crane’s crotch, the men allege.

“People always say, ‘How bad can it be? They didn’t rape you,’” Tom Crane said. “But they don’t understand how this screws up your life. You don’t have to be raped to be abused.

“I was 11, 12 years old. I wasn’t ready for what they showed me. I wasn’t ready for what they did to me. All these years later, it’s still very difficult.”

The brothers have decided against talking to the abbey’s review board because they believe the panel buries cases and bullies alleged victims, Tom Crane said.

The Cranes said they wanted to make the allegations public to encourage other alleged victims to come forward.

“The days of secrecy, conspiracy and intimidating victims are over,” his brother, Bill, added.

Attorney Michael Critchley said Capato, his client, “would vigorously defend himself,” and he criticized the Cranes for holding a press conference.

“They wanted headlines and they got them,” Critchley said. “I hope when the charges are dismissed, they hold a press conference to apologize to Father Capato.”

According to victims advocate Patrick Marker, four other men have come forward within the past year to make decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct against Travers, which includes kissing and fondling them as teens.

Abbey spokesman Anthony Cicatiello said the nine-month investigation is continuing and that the abbey “would not comment on any pending legal matter.”

Travers’ attorney did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit is linked to another sex abuse case involving the Cranes, who were among roughly two dozen individuals who received a $5 million settlement from the Paterson Diocese in 2005 in connection with allegations against James Hanley, the former pastor of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Mendham.

While confessing his use of pornography at Delbarton to Hanley, Bill Crane said, Hanley told him it was “normal.” The Cranes believe Hanley later used this information to invite them into his inner circle of teens, whom he allegedly sexually abused.

The Cranes’ allegations against Travers are new, but those against Capato have taken years to surface. The Cranes said their father told abbey officials in 2004 of the alleged abuse Capato committed against Bill Crane Jr.

The elder Crane declined to comment publicly about his sons’ lawsuit.

In 2010, the Crane brothers detailed Capato’s alleged abuse in a letter to the abbey. Frustrated with the response, the men decided to file a lawsuit, they said, and allegations against Travers were added to that complaint.

Gov. Chris Christie, whose son attends Delbarton, said Tuesday he is “saddened” by the allegations, which would be “inexcusable” if true. But he added, “We’ve never had a moment of second thought about having sent Andrew to Delbarton.”

As yesterday’s press conference outside the county courthouse ended, Tom Crane held a photocopy of a 1977 newspaper clipping that contained a photo of a Delbarton football team celebrating an undefeated season. In the middle of the jubilant players is a grinning Bill Crane.

“Look at how happy he is,” Tom Crane said. “But that’s just about the time it all started. I look at that picture and think, ‘He has no idea what his life is going to be like.’”

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2 former students sue Delbarton over alleged sexual abuse
March 20, 2012
Kevin Manahan
The Star-Ledger